The key to the Peas' sales success When Fergie arrived, chart-topping hits followed.

Posted: February 26, 2010

For the BEP, there's BF and AF. That is, in the career of the Black Eyed Peas, there are two distinct stages: Before Fergie and After Fergie.

Before singer Stacey Ferguson joined the will.i.am-led group, which headlines at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday on a bill that includes Atlanta rapper Ludacris, the Peas were a politically conscious alt-rap band with little commercial success.

Then in 2003, Fergie came on board, lending her apple pipes to the international hit "Where Is the Love?", which also featured Justin Timberlake, and the Peas instantly became a chart-topping pop group.

"I was a huge fan of theirs before ever working with them," says Fergie, 34 and married to actor Josh Duhamel. "I always loved that they were a live band with a hip-hop flavor."

She's talking on the phone from the Jacksonville stop on the Peas' tour for last year's mega-selling The E.N.D. (which, naturally, stands for "energy never dies").

Just as Wild Orchid, the girl group she spent 11 years with without much success, was about to break up in 2003, Fergie met will.i.am at a radio show in Los Angeles.

"I approached him backstage in the hall, as you do when you're trying to get your hustle on," says the singer, a showbiz lifer of Irish, Scottish, and Mexican heritage who got her start as a child actor on the show Kids Incorporated and voicing characters on Charlie Brown TV cartoons.

When the Peas were recording the 2003 album Elephunk, will.i.am (real name: William Adams) called Fergie in to sing on "Shut Up" and "the rest is history," she says.

For Fergie, that history has included the unsubtle sexual innuendo in hits such as "My Humps" (on the Peas' 2005 album Monkey Business) and "London Bridge" (from her 2006 solo album The Dutchess). She's also made her Hollywood move, with a meaty role in Planet Terror (the 2007 Robert Rodriguez zombie-flick half of the Quentin Tarantino collaboration Grindhouse) and Nine, last year's Rob Marshall-directed, Fellini-inspired musical. Next she'll be voicing Jessica the collie in an animated feature adaptation of the Marmaduke comic strip.

The E.N.D. is easily the best BEP album of the Fergie era and spawned the two biggest-selling digital songs of 2009 in "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling." Fergie says, "We were very inspired by the electro scene. We wanted to make a dance album. It was exciting, but also a risk. We weren't trying to re-create the past flavor of the other records."

The E.N.D. tour will be a suitably oversize pop extravaganza. "It's so big," she says. "It just feels so monstrous, the stage and all the costume changes and everything."

Expect to see the "Fergilicious" vocalist in a half dozen outfits over the course of the two-hour show. "They're kind of difficult to get in and out of," she says. "It's very frenetic and kind of hilarious. A costume change is no joke."

Black Eyed Peas with Ludacris and LMFAO play 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Wachovia Center, Broad Street and Pattison Avenue. Tickets: $46.50-$89.50. Information: 215-336-3600, www.comcasttix.com.

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